In many ways, the single most extraordinary part of the debate came when the Republicans and Democrats exchanged greetings in between the two debates. As I indicated in my last blog post, this was an enjoyable, precedent-breaking piece of television debate history.
Here are some thoughts about the candidates and their performances:
1. With all my joking about Romney being a Cylon, I thought he came through as the most relaxed and natural in the Republican debate. True, he did talk about a patient going in for "repairs," but he handled the attacks from McCain and Thompson with ease and style.
2. Ron Paul, as usual, made by far the best points in substance. His response to the question about Barack Obama was especially good: Obama and I (Ron Paul), Paul said, are similar in our longstanding opposition to the war. Ron Paul also was good in his continuing emphasis on the unconstitutionality of the war - I would have been interested in what the other Republicans would have had to say about that point.
3. Hillary did very well in the Democratic debate, in tone and substance. Her best line was when she pointed out that she embodies change, given that her election would be the first time a woman was President. Very true and important. (She and Obama both, literally, embody change - unlike any of the Republicans.)
4. Edwards was good, too, especially in his attack on Hillary. But she handled that attack very well.
5. Obama, given his victory in Iowa, had to get through this debate without any gaffes. He did that. He also made the important point - in response to Hillary's point about actions counting more than words - that words are important, too. Words inspire change.
In general, though, I'd say that these debates are not Obama's strongest medium - just as they are not Ron Paul's. In the case of Obama, his speeches are more inspiring. In the case of Ron Paul, his positions have always been stronger than his presentation.
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. We'll see, then, what the voters think.